What are they?

Flashbacks are memories of past traumas. They may take the form of pictures, sounds, smells, body sensations, feelings or the lack of them (numbness). Many times there is no actual visual or auditory memory. One may have the sense of panic, being trapped, feeling powerless with no memory stimulating it. These experiences can also happen in dreams.

As a child (or adolescent), we had to insulate ourselves from the emotional and physical horrors of the trauma. In order to survive, that insulated child remained isolated, unable to express the feelings and thoughts of that time. It is as though we put that part into a time capsule until it comes out full-blown in the present.

When that part comes out, we experience the past as if it were happening today. As the flashback occurs, it is as if we forget that we have an adult part available to us for reassurance, protection and grounding. The intense feelings and body sensations are so frightening because the feelings/sensations are not related to the reality of the present and many times seem to come from nowhere.

We begin to think we are crazy and afraid of telling anyone (including our therapist) of these experiences. We feel out of control and at the mercy of our experiences.

We begin to avoid situations, and stimuli, that we think triggered it. Many times flashbacks occur during any form of sexual intimacy, or it may be a person who has similar characteristics to the perpetrator, or it may be a situation today that stirs up similar trapped feelings (confronting aggressive people).

If you are feeling small... you are experiencing a flashback.

If you are experiencing stronger feelings than are called for in the present situation... you are experiencing a flashback.

Flashbacks are normal

Vietnam vets have normalized this experience and have coined the term Post-Traumatic Stress Syndrome.

Even the diagnostic category book for psychiatry defines Post-Traumatic Stress Syndrome as the normal experience of experiencing an event that is outside the range of normal human experience. Flashbacks feel crazy because the little one doesn't know that there is an adult survivor available to help.

What helps

  1. Tell yourself that you are having a flashback.
  2. Remind yourself that the worst is over. The feelings and sensations you are experiencing are memories of the past. The actual event took place long ago when you were younger, and you survived. Now it is time to let out that terror, rage, hurt and/or panic. Now is the time to honor your experience.
  3. Get grounded. This means stamping your feet on the ground so that the little one knows you have feet and can get away if you need to. If the trauma occurred as a child, you couldn't get away. Now you can.
  4. Breathe. When we get scared we stop normal breathing. As a result, our body begins to panic from the lack of oxygen. Lack of oxygen in itself causes a great deal of panic feelings: pounding in the head, tightness, sweating, feeling faint, shakiness, dizziness. When we breathe deeply enough, a lot of the panic feeling can decrease. Breathing deeply means putting your hand on your diaphragm and breathing deeply enough so that your diaphragm pushes against your hand and then exhaling so that the diaphragm goes in.
  5. Reorient to the present. Begin to use your five senses in the present. Look around and see the colors in the room, the shapes of things, the people near, etc. Listen to the sounds around you: your breathing, traffic, birds, people, cars, etc. Feel your body and what is touching it: your clothes, your own arms and hands, the chair or floor supporting you.
  6. Speak to the little one and reassure him/her. It is very healing to get your adult in the now, that you can get out if you need to, that it is OK to feel the feelings of long ago without reprisal. The child needs to know that it is safe to experience the feelings/sensations and let go of the past.
  7. Get in touch with your needs for boundaries. Sometimes when we are having a flashback we lose the sense of where we leave off and the world begins; as if we do not have skin. Wrap yourself in a blanket, hold a pillow or stuffed animal, go to bed, sit in a closet... any way that you can feel yourself truly protected from the outside.
  8. Get support. Depending on your situation, you may need to be alone or may want someone near you. In either case, it is important that your close ones know about flashbacks so they can help with the process, whether that means letting you be by yourself or being there.
  9. Take time to recover. Sometimes flashbacks are very powerful. Give yourself the time to make the transition from this powerful experience. Don't expect yourself to jump into adult activities right away. Take a nap, or a warm bath, or some quiet time. Do not beat yourself up for having a flashback. Appreciate how much you went through. . .
  10. Honor your experience. Appreciate yourself for having survived that horrible time [when you were younger]. Respect your body's need to experience those feelings of long ago.
  11. Be patient. It takes time to heal the past. It takes time to learn appropriate ways of taking care of self., of being an adult who has feelings, and developing effective ways of coping in the here and now.
  12. Find a competent therapist. Look for a therapist who understands the processes of healing from [trauma: incest, rape, war.] A therapist can be a guide, a support, a coach in this healing process. You do not have to do it alone . . . ever again.
  13. Join a self-help group. Survivors are wonderful allies in this process of healing. It is a healing thing to share your process with others who understand so deeply what you are going through.
  14. Know you are not crazy... you are healing!

Showing 20 comments

  • David Sofine
    commented 2019-07-18 01:06:10 -0500
    I must first say that it is not my intent to attack any one’s religion but it is through my experiences and previous attempts to help my self and others that any mention of supposed entities imaginary friends or hocus pocus what so ever. Triggers flashbacks of those who have died at the hands of those posing as some sort of higher form of human given special privilege by means of sumthing that doesn’t exist. If you wish to pray for me and it will make you feel better than by all means do so just do it silently in your hart. I firmly believe in the Christian values of the Bible, but for me to tell you I believe in god would be a lie. I hope you can understand that. Not that long ago I was an Ordained Minister, I live in an old church. But when someone mentions God I just have to turn the other way and leave. So for me, it just gets in the way of progress. Here is one of my experiences. I was 8 years old in the process of filming their dirty movies I was stripped naked wrapped in chain secured with many padlocks. First, they touched and tormented me to make me aware of my total helpless situation, then they lowered me into an old well. There was barely a little bit of water at the bottom, it was muddy and I sunk to my ankles then knees, within an hour or so I was down to my belly button and seemed to start floating at that point. the metal of the chain got cold and started hearting my skin. I lost track of all time except for the light at the top of the well coming and going 7 times. Then when I was certain of no rescue, they pulled me from the well. I was shivering so badly they hag trouble getting the keys in the padlocks I found out that they had manipulated my agony by blocking the light to simulate night and day I had only been in the well for several hours. No angels came to comfort me only the cold silence, and this was one of many torments I would endure for the pleasure of others when I hear of others who have died it just makes me feel guilty to still be here. why did I survive all that, when others die choking on a hotdog.
  • Harumi Suzuki
    commented 2018-09-03 21:18:33 -0500
    Hello. Arlene
    You are not alone.
    We are with you.
    We are innocent.
    I love you.
  • Harumi Suzuki
    commented 2018-09-03 21:16:43 -0500
    Hello. Guisela
    You are not alone.
    We are with you.
    We are innocent.
    Our pain may never go away for the rest of my life. But we support each other and start walking along the new journey. It will be a wonderful journey. It is because each of us has the power to bring a difference to the world.
  • Harumi Suzuki
    commented 2018-09-03 21:12:25 -0500
    We are innocent.
    Our pain may never go away for the rest of our life. But we support each other and start walking along the new journey. It will be a wonderful journey. It is because each of us has the power to bring a difference to the world.
  • Harumi Suzuki
    commented 2018-09-03 20:57:45 -0500
    Hello. Alexa
    I was the same as you.
    I was hit by a big flashback when I reported damage to Catholic two years ago.
    Then flashback has come to occur frequently. But becoming a member of SNAP, I got to be able to talk my story in front of a lot of people. Flashback is proof that you are getting stronger. It is a human system in which God made it so that you can withstand pain with ease as yourself became strong enough to tolerate over the years. In the future, the waves of your flashback will gradually become smaller. Please tell your story to your close friend. Please shout that you are on innumerable SNS “I am innocent”. We are innocent. I am always by your side.
  • Alexa Mandak
    commented 2018-09-03 10:48:52 -0500
    I am 23 years old and I am new to this as well… I am in Harrisburg, PA. Definitely struggling everyday with these feelings.
  • Arlene Manger
    followed this page 2018-08-28 15:03:56 -0500
  • Guisela Rojas Herbas
    commented 2018-08-28 12:50:46 -0500
    New here, not easy in Chicago
  • Harumi Suzuki
    commented 2018-01-04 04:58:41 -0600
    I am preparing for a trial now. I have received free counseling once a month. Catholic is a tough enemy, but I will fight to the fullest so as not to regret no matter what the result is.
  • Chris Warren
    commented 2018-01-03 21:53:04 -0600
  • Harumi Suzuki
    commented 2016-09-02 11:29:33 -0500
    To Mr.Jone
    One day at a time!Thank you!!
  • John Merryman
    commented 2016-09-02 11:15:48 -0500
    One day at a time and one step at a time. You will do fine, Harumi.
  • Harumi Suzuki
    commented 2016-09-02 10:26:17 -0500
    To Mr.Jone
    Thank you for your advice. I am a female adult.
    I was absent from counseling for a while for economic reasons. I think that going to receive counseling again. I have received once a month the therapy of sexual violence victims.
    Encouraged I think because fellow of SNAP is present. Thank you. I will do my best.
  • John Merryman
    commented 2016-09-02 06:21:54 -0500
    To Mr. Suzuki,
    Your flashback after talking with your lawyer is completely natural. Any event (the phone call) associated with your abuse will trigger memories and then the depression. I would suggest that you consider counseling with a good trauma specialist. I have been through this process and I am better for it. Seeing a priest still triggers memories, but I now understand why. That understanding is vital to our emotional health. Once we know what is happening to us, it’s effects are diminished.

    The priest that abused you may not plead guilty. That does not mean that your abuse didn’t happen to you. You may not get the desired outcome in court, but you did take action. That is a vitally important step in your recovery. The Catholic Church is a formidable opponent with nearly endless resources. But that does not mean you cannot challenge them. I and many others have and you can to. While you may have the flashbacks during the process it is an important step for you take. Good luck.
  • Harumi Suzuki
    commented 2016-09-01 19:20:33 -0500
    I had a phone call from the lawyer of the day before yesterday a third-party committee. Then flashback occurs. I have to now depression. I want to get over the fears. Catholic priest that I was hurt to 38 years ago may not pleaded guilty. I would be likely to be crushed on the idea that might be bashing and crazy in the liar from the people in Japan. I can not take it anymore. I have a fellow of SNAP. I think that there is only out before published a fact.
    Do I have why knew that has caused a flashback? ? ?
  • Harumi Suzuki
    followed this page 2016-08-31 08:40:34 -0500
  • John Merryman
    commented 2016-08-28 08:32:41 -0500
    It is crucially important for victims of abuse to study as much as they possibly can about flashbacks. The article’s content is highly accurate and I can tell you that it works. In my journey of recovery, I have met too many survivors who, for whatever reason, are not ready to come forward. Find a way to move forward with your healing that is comfortable for you. It may seem like a long and difficult road to you now, but I can assure you that, once you start he trip, you will find many friends and tremendous support along the way. As an abuse survivor, I can tell you that taking the first few steps will give you the strength to continue. You deserve to be healed.
    John M. Merryman
  • Alfonso Averne
    commented 2016-03-14 07:42:12 -0500
    Those should never ever happen to anyone. Everything should be shared and published so that people get to know way more than they do -
  • Peggy Dlugos
    followed this page 2014-11-14 14:25:58 -0600
  • Ryan Nehring
    published this page in Resources 2014-10-24 02:43:42 -0500

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